Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone moved on to the Buffalo Bills, and offensive lineman Justin Pugh and quarterback Ryan Nassib were drafted in the first- and- fourth rounds respectively in the NFL draft.
NC State defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable watched his defense shut down Syracuse last year, only he was at Pittsburgh at the time. Pitt won 14-13 on Oct. 5, 2012, after holding the Orange to 305 yards of total offense. Huxtable was able to get a good feel for Syracuse star junior running back Jerome Smith, who finished with 61 yards on 10 carries against the Panthers last year.
"It's a different head coach and different staff, but there are some similarities," Huxtable said. "We are playing against some of the same guys from last year when I was at Pitt. The running back [Smith] is a very good player and a physical guy. He runs hard, is big and strong. They are a physical offense."
NC State's defense will need to play a tough, physical brand of football against Syracuse, which Huxtable fully expects. Smith ripped off a 66-yard touchdown run against Clemson last Saturday, proving he is more than just a strong runner between the tackles.
"We can't allow that crease and be where we are supposed to be in the run game," Huxtable said. "We have to cancel gaps, take people on and then change the math by shedding blocks and getting more hats to the ball. We can't allow any running lanes or creases."
Wake Forest senior quarterback Tanner Price rushed for 82 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. Syracuse redshirt sophomore Terrel Hunt is a gifted runner and has good size at 6-foot-3 and 219 pounds. Shutting down the Syracuse running game and forcing Hunt to carry the offense with his righty arm might be the ticket for the NC State defense.
"I think he has gotten better every game," Huxtable said. "It's really not so much about him and their offense, but about us, and us coming out ready to play.
"He has no problem taking it and going. They do a lot of things where they have different options on a play. They'll go dive, quarterback or pitch and have some passing options off the same play. They will make you defend off a same play."
Huxtable expects a boost from playing at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, plus extra motivation after falling to Wake Forest. NC State is looking for its first ACC victory of the season, and is 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the league.
"We are at home and coming off a tough loss, so should that be motivation enough? Hell ya, that should be," Huxtable said. "Players have to be self-driven and self-motivated. It's our jobs as coaches to help out along that way."
NC State didn't have a defensive player of the week picked by the coaches after the Wake Forest loss.
"There was not an individual defensive player that played well enough to earn it last week," Huxtable said. "That was then and this is now. They've come out this week and worked hard."
The defense could be playing without fifth-year senior free safety Jarvis Byrd, who was injured in the second quarterback against the Demon Deacons. NCSU listed Byrd as "doubtful" for the Syracuse game. If he can't play, sophomore safety Josh Stanley and freshman cornerback Jack Tocho could end up playing extra snaps.
"[Tocho] is an unbelievable person and a great kid," Huxtable said. "He's a try-hard guy and he gives you his best every down. I've seen Jack just continue to take steps and get better and better every practice."